26 October 2011

A bit of music | Sousou & Maher Cissoko: Jangfata featuring Timbuktu

No need to elaborate much; it's just a feel good song. A lovely collaboration between Senegal and Sweden by artists Sousou and Maher Cissoko, and always brilliant Timbuktu is also featured in the mix. The video makes me miss both summer and Stockholm.

21 October 2011

A few Fela Kuti links

Fela Anikulapo Kuti seems to be a topical artist these days. Of course he's always had his following, but the Broadway musical about him has made a fair few new people aware of his art and his politics. I recently read Carlos Moore's Fela: This Bitch of a Life book so I have thought about him a lot, but I have been a fan of him for years. Not since the childhood or anything like that, but for well over a decade, and not that I need any evidence, but I actually have some, since in 2004 my comment on him was published as a part of the New African magazine's 100 Greatest Africans poll. It wasn't a great insight - I admit - but perhaps being from Finland was exotic enough to be published.

Fela Kuti in New African magazine 100 greatest Africans of all the time

Here's a short video clip I enjoyed a lot and below it, an Afropop Worldwide radio programme which focuses mainly on the Broadway musical on Fela, but actually covers a bit more than that. I thought it was really nice listen so press play or download it why don't you.

20 October 2011

John Pilger's 'Apartheid Did Not Die' (1998)

Train to town

One of my favourite journalists and a very special human being John Pilger has made most of his life work as far as documentary films and special reports go freely available*. It's all on his own website and to study all of that will take a good long time, but today I watched this report from South Africa called Apartheid Did Not Die (1998), and while a lot has changed, a lot has remained the same. I found it to be very interesting as much of the journalism from the time in South Africa was focusing on nation building and telling the story of the struggle and internationally I guess everyone wanted to jump on the feel good boat, but Pilger doesn't roll like that. He asks good questions and highlight issues that are still relevant and still not dealt with. I'd say struggle continues, but in the words of Fela Kuti, I don't want the struggle to continue - the struggle must end successfully. It all got me a bit melancholic to be honest with you. Especially since I have been reading Frantz Fanon recently and my mind wonders whether his uncompromising approach to decolonising would have been needed in South Africa. Or is that still on its way. The only thing that is for sure is that I am not even in a position to speculate on that, but I wish - for whatever it is worth and as naïve as it sounds  - that some solution is found before the people will not wait any longer.

*freely available with a good internet connection.

16 October 2011

New Lowkey album is out.

Lowkey has just released his new album Soundtrack to the Struggle. It’s been coming for a while and many of the albums 26 tracks (20 songs six skits) have been heard and seen as videos already – even here on this blog – but finally now, we have the real thing; the full album.

I can’t say anything in detail about it yet because I don’t have it. I pre-ordered it, but the download hasn’t yet come through, so let me just recollect how I first came across of Lowkey and his art.

There used to be a really cool music magazine in UK called Undercover and besides great written content the complementary promotional was most often pretty amazing. I found a lot of great music from there and Lowkey was one of those artists besides at least Sway. His song Let Me Live was on one of the Undercover mix CDs (although the music wasn’t particularly mixed). After that I went and bought myself two of his three mixtapes Key To The Game vol. 2 and vol. 3 and I might also remind here that Key To The Game vol. 3 was selected as the album of the year 2006 on this blog. Dear Listener which was the album before the new one was also pretty big and a crucial part of our family’s Cape Town soundtrack – it was the one album that all three of us absolutely loved.

But have a look at the brand new video above; it’s for the song Hand On Your Gun and remember that Lowkey exists outside of all major labels. He has done it all by himself, with his people and his fans so even purely for that achievement he deserves your support. Or at least mine. He definitely gets my support.

10 October 2011

#PEPR | Hip-Hop in New Zeland

Our latest Planet Earth Planet Rap installment looks into the Hip-Hop scene in New Zealand. 

Here is the playlist: 
1. Scribe –  Dreaming from the album The Crusader (Dirty Records, 2004) 
2. Deceptikonz – Evolution from the album Evolution (Dawn Raid Music Ltd, 2010) 
3. King Kapisi – Soundsystem from the album 2nd Round Testament (Festival Records Mushroom Records, 2003) 
4. Dam Native – Only You from the album Aotearoa... Nobody does it better (Heart Music NZ, 2010) 

Follow us on Twitter @PEPRradio
Visit PEPR homebase on Rapstation.com

Here’s a few additional videos for some of the featured songs.

7 October 2011

Woody Allen collection

Woody Allen collection
Photo: On one hand our Woody Allen collection is modest; it's not that many films in general or even specifically from Allen's filmography, but then again, for one film maker it's quite a few when you think about it.

There’s a lot more to a person than their online personality suggests. Of course there is. Or perhaps some people are able and unashamed enough to bare it all, but even then often the mistake is made that it matters to people in numbers that this has happened. Sometimes things go in cycles; one focuses on one thing for now, but year ago the balance was different and so it will be again a year from now. I know I often focus on raw street music and an occasional act of banging keyboard to depressurise, but rarely some of the other things I am quite keen on. Like films. 

Nearly everyone likes films and it takes little to have an opinion about them. To like films is like to like breathing air. Or to like music, which is of course even more common... well, thing to like, but me and my wife are quite keen on Woody Allen films. What makes him in specifically a great film maker to like is the fact that his back catalogue is ridiculous and he’s been banging out these classics of American cinema pretty much one every year since the 1960’s. Not each and every one of his films is amazing, but quite a few are really great. I am not going to pretend that I have anything particularly insightful to say about his way of making films and I am sure enough has been said by people much cleverer than me, but I have been happy to read Woody Allen on Woody Allen interview book where Swedish cinema professional Stig Björkman talks to Allen and they go through large amount of his work film by film. It has added a lot to the experience.

So far we have seen over thirty films by him and we own twenty five of them, but there is so much more to go. So there, this is one of the lighter hobbies we have, even if the films occasionally are heavy. And by that I mean both heavy as in deep and heavy as in great.

3 October 2011

This is Black History | Music video

Powerful Black History Month track by a legion of cool UK artists: This is Black History. Have a look, why don't you.

1 October 2011

Selective understanding of Zimbabwe

Sometimes some information lands on you in such a way that you must say, stop the press… we have a new front page. Although, since I am not a newspaper editor of yesteryear I found myself rather just thinking that I need to reprioritise my Friday afternoon… don’t tell my boss.

My friend online – which just simply means I’ve never met him elsewhere – Tom Devriendt, who is writing his PhD which has something to do with identity and white South Africa and who is a regular contributor to the brilliant Africa is a Country blog, sent me some links about Zimbabwe and I can’t help but make a small summary, linkage and expansion of the topic.

Land reform and Zimbabwe; say those words in any order and you get a reaction. It obviously was a failed but atrocious attempt of a corrupt leader who bribes people to vote for him and then still lies about the result just to be once more popular amongst his people. Obviously. Well, obviously at least if you have been following the story from almost any media with the exception of New African magazine – I honestly cannot think of another exception that I’d know of. According to this news narrative that unsurprisingly enjoys unquestioned consensus in the western press, the agricultural sector of Zimbabwe collapsed and violence coloured the previously white farms first red and then black as the ownership landed neatly on the hands of Mugabe’s political cronies. Right?

Wrong. A group of researchers mainly from Zimbabwe have conducted a fascinating study* which focuses on the Masvingo Province in the southern part of the country, but reflects the circumstances in a much broader national level. Based on their on-the-ground research they found out – and I am not going to get too much into details since the findings are available besides the book, which I haven’t read, also in the booklet that I have, and which is available as a free PDF – that many of these myths are just that; myths.

Admittedly agricultural production has struggled in many ways and since the land reform certain crops such as wheat, coffee, tea and tobacco have not reached the same production standard as before. That is the kind of stuff we know because the media – even if not so much recently – went on and on about how terribly things have been going. What was forgotten, was of course that the production of certain other crops such as small grains, edible dry beans and cotton have been increasing. The production of dry beans is actually up 282% since reform. Production is also much more diverse than what it was with new ideas and new products introduced. And while political corruption did exist, and still does, in the form of inside golden handshakes and the so called cronies owning the land, the truth isn’t quite as simple with regards to that either. Out of the people who own any of the redistributed land only less than five per cent fall into that category. Mostly the new owners are a diverse group of people of all ages, some former farm workers and others from the cities. They invest in the land and farms so much so that the research team had calculated the full amount of investment for country being US$91 million since 2000 which is quite a bit for a financially struggling country.

The main points – at least some of them – are that Zimbabwean agriculture is in transformation. The old didn’t continue in the new, but structures are changing and considering the short time period of a mere decade as well as largely absent state or NGO funding, the successes where they have been, are remarkable and can be attributed to a few things, but mainly hard work and certain amount of creativity. I really recommend you to read the booklet as it is very interesting. The ultimate condensing of its message is that not that it’s all good, but it’s not all bad either; it’s complex, but there’s a lot of potential and promise.

The reason why I am particularly interested in all this is the fact that I spent some time in the country soon after the main wave of reforms and farm takeovers, when according to the news white people were being killed in the country as a rule. Of course that was a lie – much of the news are very one sided anyway – but since agriculture or land reform aren’t something I know all that much about, I wanted to expand the idea to a few things I am able to speculate on. I also want to, at this point, emphasise that I am neither celebrating the current political structure of Zimbabwe nor trying to tell how the future should go. I am not a specialist and even if I was I'd have the decency to shut my mouth about it. I am, however, interested in the reaction of the so called western media. So based on these findings, why is it that the news stories from Zimbabwe were, and still are whenever occasionally they are published, so misleading?

First we need to understand that now heavily demonised President Mugabe is one of the world leaders who chose not to be a western puppet. He hasn’t been taking orders from the north and he has been very vocal about it. I am not saying that he is a great leader – I believe he definitely was a great leader and one of the heroes of the independent Zimbabwe, who got somewhat side lined and forgot to share the power, but his biggest sins, in this context at least, are not the ones he has committed against his people – especially the ones in the urban areas – but the ones where white people have been in the receiving end; the farmers and the western leaders, the BBC journalists and NGOs. To mess with those people is to lose a PR war. No matter what the actual outcomes of your actions and policies are, you are ranked lower than Nazis on the morality chart of western norms. If there’s one thing we white people are, we are sore losers. And I don’t say this to generalise individuals, only to describe our mostly racist structures of power and communication. You are free to disagree, but what has been normalised in the past centuries runs deep. And deep down there it informs our school books, media and through that, our world view thus being kind of invisible, because it is what we are so used to see and because it doesn’t really inconvenience us, we simply don’t pay attention to it. 

The news about Africa – to a large degree – are informed by development aid providing NGOs, suggests Karen Rothmyer in her Harvard University discussion paper They Wanted Journalists to Say ‘Wow’: How NGOs Affect U.S. Media Coverage of Africa (2011). Similar idea is also explored in C. P. Eze’s brilliant book Don’t Africa Me (2008). The fact is that there is a whole industry of western aid that employs thousands of Europeans, Americans, Australians and people from many other countries. These Non-Governmental Organisations rely to a large extent on outside funding and in order for them to receive that funding they have to prove that the need is huge. In order for Bono and Bob Geldof (who rely on this less financially) to raise funds for an urgent need with famine or so, they must basically paint as terrible picture as possible for us to give as much money as possible. While some great things might be achieved, some other terrible things come as a result. This goes to your red nose days and all. So the reason I have digressed a bit, is that what has happened in Zimbabwe has happened outside of that structure; there haven’t been any gap-year Dutch teens patronising locals because they receive a bit of money and an experience of a lifetime to do so. There haven’t been that many older professional aid workers either, but local people have come together. That goes against the aid narrative according to which such aid is needed that only predominantly white Europeans and Americans can oversee it or else the corrupt and uneducated locals will make a mess of it.

Finally, the last of my speculations is that Zimbabwean land reform hits too close to something that is non-negotiable; South African land reform. In order to keep away from any meaningful debate around the land issue in South Africa, the Zimbabwe has had to look like a failure. It has had to look not only like a bad idea, but also as an evil idea. It cannot be only a question of agriculture and economics, but it needs to be a question of human rights, and mainly, the rights of the white humans at that. The long knives are terrorising the nightmares of the white farmers so subsequently they will also dominate the news dystopia.

I am sure there are other reasons as well and the matter is complex. I guess the best way for me to conclude this longish blog post would be to simply repeat, or at least paraphrase myself. The summary of the whole thing, in the real world, is that it’s not that it’s all good, but it’s not all bad either. Like my undergraduate Professor always told me – It’s complicated. The news, as opposed to the reality on the ground, thinks that it's simple, but my argument is that they are simply wrong. 


*Scoones, I. et al. (2010) Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities. James Currey